This series strips away the elaborate medieval view of Camelot, and presents Arthur as the chief of a small Celt tribe in Dark-Ages Britain, a century or two after the withdrawal of Rome. ... See full summary »
This series strips away the elaborate medieval view of Camelot, and presents Arthur as the chief of a small Celt tribe in Dark-Ages Britain, a century or two after the withdrawal of Rome. Arthur struggles to weave the scattered tribes of Celts, Jutes, etc. into a union that can effectively oppose the Saxon invaders who are arriving in Britain in growing numbers. He is aided by his adoptive father, Llud, and his foster brother, Kai, who is himself a Saxon foundling. Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
An interesting revisionist spin on the King Arthur myth
Part of that curious British tradition of half-hour adventure series made largely for children's television, 1972's Arthur of the Britons offers an interesting revisionist spin on the King Arthur myth, with it's young Celtic warlord trying to unite the divided tribes against the Saxon invaders, and is better funded than you might expect (it even boasts an Elmer Bernstein theme tune) but stumbles with some dodgy casting. Oliver Tobias' Arthur doesn't project much presence beyond sulking and tends to stumble over the better lines in the script, while the various tribal leaders are an odd bunch Norman Bird's nostalgic wannabe Roman and Shouty Shouty Brian Blessed's loud and untrustworthy bullheaded rival leaving much of the heavy lifting to Michael Gothard's moody and competitive Saxon sidekick, Kai. Indeed, so much so that they might have been better off calling the series Kai of the Saxons. Gothard had a limited range that generally typed him into intense and threatening roles, but he's perfectly cast here and for the most part a lot more interesting than the nominal hero in the first series. By comparison, Jack Watson's father-figure and mentor to both tends to get the short straw at times as the writers take several episodes to work out quite what to do with him.
The first six episodes of series one are generally pretty poor, self-contained simple morality tales that are more a throwback to 50s adventure shows like The Buccaneers or Robin Hood than the kind of adventure series Richard Carpenter would revitalise in the 70s and 80s. The initial uninspired choice and use of visually boring locations doesn't help, nor do the seriously underpopulated battles, but the show does improve as it reaches the halfway point thanks to better stories and more complex characterisation and storytelling as not every situation can be easily solved in time for a warm wrapup, and the film-making and use of locations improves dramatically too as the show finds its feet. Decent guest stars like Clive Revill, Esmond Knight, Peter Firth, Bernard Bresslaw and Mike Pratt help, though others, like Rupert Davies as a bloodthirsty Saxon warlord, aren't exactly well cast.
But it's in the second series that the show really finds its tone. It's not so much that more money has been spent, more that more thought has been put into the stories, while the easy moralising of the first half of the first run gives way to lessons that are left unlearnt and chances that are missed. Arthur takes centre stage and Tobias' performance improves with it as, along with the practicalities of holding together and widening a fragile alliance, cultural differences between the Celts and the Saxon invaders are more pronounced, turning them from stereotypical villains into a people who may be making more of the land than the people they are usurping. Rupert Davies comes into his own too, no longer an unlikely warlord and now a more rounded figure capable of being cunning and deceitful but also of being more pragmatic and even forgiving when circumstances allow, while the female roles generally improve with the introduction of Louis Malle's muse Gila von Weitershausen as a far from submissive romantic interest. While the first season started out as something of a chore, by the time the penultimate episode, The Treaty (the best directed of the series and the only one where no director is credited), comes along, the quality of both the writing and the execution had improved so much that it's a pity there never was a third season. It's by no means a great show (and the image quality of the various episodes on the Network UK DVD set varies wildly), but it does end up a pretty good one.
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